What is a public record?

The Rio Grande Foundation has put together, but not formally launched yet, a new website containing large amounts of data on public school employee payroll and vendor payments in the state of New Mexico. This project involved large numbers of data requests of supposedly public information from school districts and governments statewide.

Unfortunately, just because information is “public,” doesn’t mean it is easy (or cheap) to access. Read articles on the topic from the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Reporter. One school district that was less-than cooperative was the Santa Fe school district which wanted to charge more than $1,200 for electronic documents. Now, I’m not claiming that there is no expense in putting payroll information together, but $1,200? Shouldn’t this data all be in electronic form to begin with? Paper copies can certainly be expensive — and New Mexico law is written with that in mind — but electronic copies should be a fraction of the cost of paper copies.

The fact is that New Mexico’s new “Sunshine Portal,” set to get up and running within the next year, needs to include school districts. While the current version of does not, hopefully legislators will demand transparency from the schools which spend nearly half of the state’s budget.